When I was a boy as you might imagine I was very much into all things countryside,not that i was brought up in some rural idle,I was brought up on a council estate in Salisbury called Bemerton Heath,Bemerton itself being on the banks of the Nadder at the bottom of the hill and getting its name from the middle english for ‘the field of the horn or trumpet blowers’.
The Heaths one saving grace was it being surrounded by countryside on three sides ,well nearly four ,farmland and some patches of heathland left where you could see every butterfly in the Collins Gem! .In the middle was a woods known as Barnards Folly or if you were local just ‘the folly’,a place of wonder for a young boy,dens made wars won and lost fauna slain for an all too often empty pot,it was the seventies and eighties.
Most importantly within walking distance some of the finest chalk streams in the world the Hampshire Avon and its tributaries the Nadder and the Wyle with little to do that wasn’t mischief fishing was just a natural choice to a many of us ‘Bemmy Heaf’ boys over the decades including my dad.
This naturally lead to a dalliance with fly fishing in my mid teens,mostly as I was an enthusiastic fly dresser,member of the fly dressers guild and tying professionally within no time.
The fly dressing lead me to call into a shop in salisbury looking for feather and fur for my craft,Not just a run of the mill tackle shop but a Hardy Dealer,Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies,I admired in awe of the Hardy reels and rods,you don’t grow up around chalk streams of the calibre we had and not know about Hardy.
In ‘The Rod Box of Winchester’ I met a chap Called Nick he was the manager,we shared the love of fly dressing and he would let me hold the Hardy reels and turn a handle or two.
A season passed and I popped into the shop again to see Nick,he wasn’t there,now there was a softly spoken chap called Steve Kemp,he used to write article for salmon and trout magazine and the like,this chap also used to be keeper on the Wyle back in the day and knew more about the wyle than any other man alive at that time as well as the Avon on the banks of which he lived in a small cottage in the Woodford valley.It is said that Steve coined the phrase with regard to the Wyle that it ‘Separates the men from the boys’.
After a couple of weeks Steve offered me a saturday job in the shop which I readily accepted ,five pounds a week all to myself! I met some fantastic characters from behind the till,a Brigadier who was in his nineties who served in the Raj and would tell tall tales about his fly fishing in jungles and rivers all over the raj,another was a Wing Commander with a pencil mustache and an eye over one shoulder when buying new Hardy reels in case his wife might see him as she walked past the shop.We even had one of Prince Charles’ ex girlfriends in the shop one Saturday,I was young and easily impressed.
During quiet periods i would get to know the stock well,every book carefully thumbed,and i spent time dusting the reels new and old,Prices that could almost buy a flat where I came from! One day I said to myself I will have one of those centrepins one day and often looked at the stuff online.
Just Thirty five years later finally I bought a centre pin , stumbled across one at the price i actually could afford and a good deal less than its true value,a Hardy Conquest,In good nick for its age,in need of some love and attention ,a service and an introduction to Autosol.
After a few hours with cotton buds and an odd sock It beamed with all its former glory,she scrubbed up well for an old girl.
So with less than a couple of days left of the running water season I need to get out on a local river for some Roach trotting on the Dorset Stour,I am assured that this reel will thankfully be just at home on still waters for muddy piscatorial leviathans,whether by sinker or by float.
Now a quest has begun for a rod suitable as mate for my new reel,it has to be vintage but cane or glass?